Cup or Bust for Tampa Bay
The Lightning started the year white-hot but ran out of gas in the playoffs. With arguably the best roster in the NHL that will get very expensive very soon, can they finally bring home the Cup this season?
A great year all around for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The number one offense in the league, a solid performance defensively and in net. The kind of report card you’re happy to take home to your parents.
What went right:
A year ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning were a popular choice to win the Stanley Cup. The same is true today.
The Lightning were President’s Trophy favorites for most of the season but ultimately fell four points short. Nikita Kucherov finished 6th in MVP voting and 3rd for the Art Ross. Victor Hedman won his first Norris trophy, while Andrei Vasilevskiy was a Vezina finalist. All in all, five skaters topped 60 points, six scored 20 or more goals, easily making them the top scoring team in the league.
What Went Wrong:
After losing only eight times in regulation between October and December, the Lightning slowed down in the second half, losing 15 games between January and the end of the season. In the first half, they scored 3.74 goals-per-game, a league-best, while allowing 2.42, 2nd best. From January on, their scoring average fell to 3.36 goals-per-game, 3rd best, but their defense crumbled, allowing 3.23 goals against per-game, 6th worst in the league. The offense that carried them throughout so much of the season was completely shut down in the Eastern Conference Finals with the Lightning failing to score a goal in Games 6 and 7.
Key Additions: Andy Andreoff
Key Departures: Chris Kunitz, Andej Sustr, Peter Budaj, Jake Dotchin
Other Key moves: Extended Ryan McDonagh and Nikita Kucherov, re-signed J.T. Miller, Louis Domingue, Slater Koekkoek, Cedric Paquette. Steve Yzerman stepped down as GM, will be Senior Advisor. Julien BriseBois is the new GM.
Now former GM, Steve Yzerman was busy retaining his own this offseason, with extensions and new contracts to many core players while only losing marginal depth. The Lightning was in the mix to sign John Tavares but ultimately they fell short and were linked to the Erik Karlsson trade chatter before he was traded to San Jose. Managing the salary cap will continue to be a focus for the Lightning with plenty of young talent in need of contracts in the next couple of years. Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point, Mikhail Sergachev and Yanni Gourde will all need new deals. Tampa Bay has the talent to win now and Yzerman did a masterful of keeping this team in the Stanley Cup favorite conversation. With Yzerman stepping down into an advisory role, that burden now falls to Julien BriseBois.
Next season preview
What could go right?
Vegas gives the Lightning and Maple Leafs the best odds of winning the Stanley Cup. Tampa Bay’s top four on defense, led by reigning Norris trophy winner Victor Hedman, can be matched by few teams in the league, if any. Offensively, they have the firepower to match anyone, boasting six 20+ goal scorers, while Vasilevskiy returns after a season that saw him tie for the league lead in wins. On paper, they seem to be the favorite to win it all.
What could go wrong?
Two years ago it was injuries. Last season, it was an offensive meltdown when it mattered most. It’s time for the Lightning to take the next step and raise the Stanley Cup. There are plenty of examples of teams falling just short before winning it all (Penguins in 2008, Blackhawks in 2009) and both franchises went on to win multiple Cups with a core of elite talent. The Lightning has now reached the Conference Finals three of the last four years, the Cup Final once, falling short of a title each time. With their team arguably better than ever, anything short of a Stanley Cup will be a disappointment for the Bolts. Other than a repeat of two seasons ago when injuries to key players cost them a playoff spot, there shouldn’t be any reason for the Lightning to finish out of the top-3 in the Atlantic Division.